Holly Williams

The Highway

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The Highway is singer/songwriter Holly Williams' first recording in over four years. It is also her first self-released offering on her and husband/guitarist Chris Coleman's label, Georgiana Records. Working with Grammy-winning producer Charlie Peacock (Civil Wars), Williams wrote or co-wrote everything here. She hasn't made any remarkable stylistic changes; her songs are still rooted deeply in Americana and country rock, and her poignancy as a songwriter is sharp as ever -- check "Gone Away from Me," with Jackson Browne on backing vocals. What is different is the sense of spaciousness and less-is-more aesthetic at play here. That's not to say her previous two albums were steeped in excess, but she and Peacock understand that the organic sound of musical instruments is enough to support her throaty, often mournful contralto. The rambling, rocking, road song "Railroads" is a clear standout, as it reflects on the reasons for leaving using Gothic American folk poetry that's jarring in its relationship to the tempo and electric guitars. Likewise "Happy," which blends acoustic and electric guitars, cello, and atmospheric keyboards. Sung from the point of view of one who has betrayed another and paid the price, it drips with so much longing and regret, it's almost unbearable in its heartbreak and drama. "Without You" is a midtempo ballad with a backing vocal by Jakob Dylan. It's a love song that details the protagonist's life in the rearview mirror,along with its strange milestones, all of which occurred before her beloved erased the miles of emptiness. Dierks Bentley guests on "'Til It Runs Dry," which opens with a backwoods duet vocal that borders on country gospel. While the melody sticks close to the traditional, Jerry McPherson's distorted slide guitar shifts that focus just enough to add tension, while Coleman's organic drumming on floor tom, bass drum, and tambourine set it on fire. On set closer "Waiting on June," Williams' protagonist has loved one girl since he was ten. He tells their story as it moves from childhood to eternity. Williams offers their story as if it were hers. Her vocal is backed by acoustic guitar and Coleman's lap steel; Gwyneth Paltrow joins their voices on the chorus. Williams fully inhabits the songs on The Highway. Peacock's organic, sometimes, limpid production makes damn sure that nothing gets in between them, allowing the listener to have a direct, often powerful experience with both.

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